The following article is being reprinted with permission from The Hill.
Written by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp.
As we observe the manners of our profession this Memorial Day, we remember and honor our nation’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who died while in military service. We must never forget that freedom is not free, but is only made possible by the thousands of patriots who stood the watch and selflessly made the ultimate sacrifice to serve our nation. We owe them an eternal debt of gratitude.
The Coast Guard has proudly served for over 222 years. During times of war or peace, Coast Guardsmen risk their lives every day in the service of our country. This is what we do. We protect people on the sea, we protect the nation against threats delivered by sea and we protect the sea itself.
This Memorial Day we will have the honor of rededicating the U.S. Coast Guard World War Memorial on Coast Guard Hill in Arlington National Cemetery. The Memorial commemorates two tragic episodes in Coast Guard World War I history. The first occurred on Sept. 17, 1918, when eleven shipmates from Coast Guard Cutter Seneca perished when the torpedoed British steamer they were assisting sank in the Bay of Biscay. Just nine days later, Cutter Tampa was sunk by enemy submarine UB-91 in the British Channel, and all on board Tampa were lost.
Decades of weather and exposure had taken their toll on this monument. Answering the call to both honor our profession and those who served, our Washington, D.C., Chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association took it upon themselves to continue to pay respect to their lost TAMPA and SENECA shipmates by restoring this monument to their service and sacrifice. The chiefs led the way and I am excited that the U.S. Coast Guard World War Memorial is fully restored and shines once again.
Another memorial on Coast Guard Hill is the final resting place of Lt. Jack Ritticher. Ritticher was a Coast Guard aviator during the Vietnam War who volunteered to deploy as part of a Rescue and Recovery Squadron operating out of Da Nang. Within a month of arriving he earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses for his rescues of downed aviators – all in combat conditions under fire. Sadly, after only two months in theater, his helicopter was hit by enemy fire while trying to rescue a downed Marine Corps pilot. Before he deployed to Vietnam, Ritticher’s brother asked him why he had volunteered for service. Ritticher told him “This is what I am. I’m an air rescue pilot and I’ve got an obligation.”
I’m confident that same call to service was felt by Lcdr. Dale Taylor, Lt. j.g. Tom Cameron, Chief Petty Officer Fernando Jorge and Petty Officer Drew Knight. They gave their lives when Coast Guard helicopter 6535 went down in Mobile Bay, Ala., on Feb. 28, 2012, during a training flight to better prepare them for future life-saving missions. In a solemn ceremony this past March in Mobile, Ala., we dedicated a memorial to the crew which honors their spirit of service and will stand as a source of inspiration for us and for Coast Guardsmen not yet born.
Memorial Day helps us to honor all of our fallen shipmates, including those who are not yet named on a memorial, such as Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne who made the ultimate sacrifice on Dec. 2, 2012 while protecting our shores as a maritime law enforcement officer. When his Coast Guard small boat was about to be rammed by smugglers during a pre-dawn pursuit off the California coast, Senior Chief Horne leaned forward into the point of impact and pushed his boat coxswain to safety, sacrificing his own life in the collision. He put his crew before himself. That kind of leadership is the very soul of our service.
As we honor the “long blue line” of Coast Guardsmen who have gone before us, let us remember that Memorial Day is even more than reflecting upon their accomplishments, commitment and sacrifice. It is about looking ahead at the obligation we all have before us. To our country, our Service and to each other. Semper Paratus.
You can find out more about the memorial and how it was restored by reading this piece previously published on Coast Guard Compass.